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SAG-AFTRA Funds Held in Trust Rise 6.6% to $214.8 Million

SAG-AFTRA’s funds held in trust for others have increased by 6.6% to $214.8 million since last year, according to the union’s latest filing with the federal government.

Those funds have been at the center of a long-running dispute, dating back to a 2007 suit filed by Ken Osmond (“Leave It to Beaver”) over how foreign levies are handled by the union. Osmond settled his suit in 2011.

The disclosure of the increase came in the July 29 filing of SAG-AFTRA’s report with the U.S. Department of Labor for the fiscal year that ended on April 30 in the category of “funds held in trust for others.”

Last year’s report showed a 9.4% hike to $201.5 million and the 2017 report showed a 7.1% hike to $183.9 million in funds held for others. The 2016 report showed a 4.5% gain in the funds to $171.4 million; the 2015 report showed a 7.5% hike to $164.3 million; and the 2014 report listed those funds at $153.04 million, a 16% jump from 2013’s figure of $132.26 million.

A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson said, “The majority of funds held in trust relate to production security deposits and residuals reserves — funds that will be returned to producers unless they breach their obligations under SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements.  The amount of the funds held fluctuates for a number of reasons including continued significant growth in production activity and production budgets, as well as the time of year.”

But the Los Angeles-based union has never given a specific breakdown of “funds held in trust for others.” The new report was signed by union president Gabrielle Carteris and secretary-treasurer Jane Austin.

The SAG-AFTRA website currently lists the status of the foreign royalties program as of April 30, 2016 — more than three years ago — with $6.8 million collected and $1.7 million distributed during that fiscal year, with the union asserting that the numbers are based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP audit. Since 1997, the report said, $41.1 million has been collected with $23.4 million distributed.

In May 2013, Ed Asner and 15 other union members filed suit as the United Screen Artists Committee, alleging SAG-AFTRA had improperly withheld $132 million in funds and stonewalled requests for information about the money held in trust by the union – including domestic residuals and foreign royalties collected by the union through foreign collecting societies without authorization or knowledge of union members.

The suit also alleged the union has cashed residuals checks and then claimed an inability to locate the actors to whom it owed money. A federal judge dismissed the suit in January of 2014, finding the union had been sufficiently cooperative in providing access to its materials but left the door open to re-filing the suit if the union failed to do so.

In April 2017, Asner and eight other members of USAC accused the union’s leadership — national executive director David White, chief operating officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, and senior advisor John McGuire — of extensive misconduct in the handling of union funds and threatened to file a federal lawsuit if the policies were not corrected. Carteris blasted USAC in her response, saying, “This group of people should be deeply ashamed.”

Two months later, the national board unanimously rejected the allegations in the letter, saying the accusations had been found false by outside counsel and that White, Crabtree-Ireland, and McGuire had been “unjustifiably and baselessly targeted.” Additionally, Asner said at the time that he no longer supported USAC, then later disavowed that statement.

The new LM-2 report listed White with a total compensation of $769,127 for fiscal 2018. In 2014, the national board gave White a four-year deal, then extended the deal to 2020. Crabtree-Ireland received $444,954, associate national director Mathis Dunn was paid $427,885, and chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez got $402,723.

The funds held in trust are by far the largest component of the $251.7 million in liabilities listed in the report. Assets are set at $326.3 million.

During the most recent fiscal year, SAG-AFTRA collected $101.1 million in dues, or slightly less than half of its $211.4 million in receipts. The union’s initiation fee is $3,000 and annual dues are $214.32; members also pay 1.575% of earnings to SAG-AFTRA with that figure capped at $7,875 annually.

The latest report shows that there were 161,855 active members as of April 30, up 1,079 from last year.

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